Babai Haribhau Sathey, 55 years old. From village Jawalke, population: 2,000. Babai is uneducated and has no children.
“When I was growing up I lived with my parents, two brothers, and seven sisters. Since we were such a big family, it was difficult for my parents to manage. I had to take care of my younger brother and five younger sisters so I couldn’t go to school. I often worked in the fields as a day laborer alongside my parents because we were so poor. We were of the low caste and did not have land of our own. I belong to the “Matang” community. My family was treated as untouchables and we endured incredible humiliation. Other people in the village would pour water into our pots from a great height so they would not come into contact with us. We couldn’t touch the well so we had to beg beside it until someone from an upper caste gave us water.
My family did not have a proper house; we lived in a hut on the outside of the village. We wore torn and dirty clothes because we were so poor. We often went to the village to beg for food when we could not afford it. Sometimes my mother would bring home raw sugar and we would eat a few handfuls of it for our dinner.
If someone was sick it was extremely difficult to access a health center. As a child I had a severe stomachache and my father had to bring me three kilometers in a medical facility. We waited late into the night to see a doctor and we had to pay a lot for medicine and an injection.
When I was nine I married a man twice my age. Since I was so young, I did not have a sexual relationship with my husband and I was sent back home to live with my parents. My husband married a second time even though he was still married to me.
When I became older and my friends started getting married I wished to have a married life. I asked to return to my husband’s house and my parents consented. When I arrived my in-laws shouted at me, threw my bag and clothes outside, and abused me. They allowed me to stay, but only in a hut like a shed on the farm. I was not given food. I had to clean the cowshed, the area around the house, and do all the housework. My husband’s second wife stayed inside the house and was in charge of everything. I was like a servant to her. Every day I had to walk 14 kilometers from Sarola to Jamkhed and back to sell milk from the farm. After returning from a hard day I was given only stale bread. This continued for five months.
One day on my long walk I stopped to see my aunt in Jaamdar-Wadi. She insisted I stay and have a meal with her even though it was late in the afternoon. When I returned to my husband’s home late my mother-in-law and husband began to beat me. My body, hands, face, and feet were swollen. I left my in laws’ house and went to my uncle’s home in Sehor. They welcomed me and helped me recover once I told them my ordeal. My uncle returned me to my parents’ house and warned them never to send me back to my husband.
I became involved with Mahila Mandal in my village. At first, there were only 6 women attending but gradually the number increased. Many of the women were from the high caste and the group gave us a place to come together. We discussed cleanliness, health, and used to sing songs and tell stories to keep things interesting. I met Dr. Arole when he came to give a lecture on health problems, village improvement, and development. My time in Mahila Mandal taught me how to organize a group, conduct meetings, and discuss problems. It gave me better confidence.
Every week a team from CRHP would visit my village. I began to help the team (and Jawalke VHW Sarubai) find patients in the community. I visited the homes of sick people and recommended them the CRHP staff. This work made me stand out, and our Sarpanch suggested that I go to CRHP to train as a VHW.
When I began practicing as a VHW in my village it was difficult because everyone knew I was from a low caste. Upper caste women did not allow me to touch their babies. I was prevented from performing prenatal examinations, conducting deliveries and weighting babies. People would gossip and say, “She is not a doctor. She doesn’t have any children, how would she know how to take care of them?”
I was persistent however. I returned to households where I had been rejected and spoke to people patiently and respecting. Eventually they trusted me and I truly began my work in the village.
I impressed people with my dedication to my work. I took care of children suffering from diarrhea, assisted deliveries, visited patients in the village and even outside it. I accompanied serious patients to the CRHP hospital for treatment. If they underwent an operation, I would stay with them in the hospital for two or three days.
At first, people did not call me for deliveries. My neighbor’s daughter was pregnant and one morning, she called me because the labor pains had begun. I examined her and found that everything was normal. I estimated it would take 16-18 hours. As the pains increased, my neighbor insisted on calling a private doctor. He examined her and said that it was a serious case and she needed to be operated on immediately. I told my neighbor that she should go to the CRHP hospital for a second opinion. We went there together and she was admitted. Several hours later, she delivered completely normally. The private doctor had recommended an unnecessary surgery that would have cost the family 10,000 rupees. After that incident, people had more faith in my abilities.
I have helped with 200 deliveries, 80 of which were conducted at home. Of all of these, two were serious and I took the mothers to the hospital for caesarian section. In one case the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. I gently held the baby’s head and pulled it out. Many times I had to get up in the middle of the night and walk more than 2 kilometers through the outskirts of the village. Once I was woken in the middle of the night to attend the birth of the child with a clubfoot. We brought her to the hospital and the foot was fixed. Now the girl is grown up and healthy.
If the delivery is from a poor family I give milk, sugar, dry coconut, dry dates, coarse ground wheat to help keep the mother healthy. I gave 10 kilograms of rice to one woman for free and she still thanks me to this day.
At first, even my family was skeptical that I was learning important things at my training at CRHP. They weren’t sure how my work would help the village. But once I began seeing patients and gained respect from the villagers they supported me completely.
I also helped recruit girls for the Adolescent Girl’s Program at CRHP. Most parents were reluctant to send their daughters to the seminars in Jamkhed. I explained to them that health education for young girls was crucial. I would always be with them so they would stay safe. The girls were trained in health, cleanliness, personal safety, self-defense, marriage, and family life. Six girls from my village who received this training are happily married. One girl married a boy from Bombay and insisted that he get tested for HIV. She had learned about sexually transmitted disease prevention at the Adolescent Girl’s Program. Once he was tested they got married and now live happily in Mumbai.
Things have changed dramatically for women in this village. Before, women stayed at home looking after their children. The situation has changed because of better education. Old women were uneducated, but the younger generation learn more. They watch TV, they discuss issues, they are more outspoken. Some women in the Mahila Mandel learned about safe delivery and are able to conduct them in my absence. Now they are running side businesses for extra income. Some sell bangles, dried fish, or chapals. Some even run their own general stores. Women can make 100,000 rupees a year in the onion business. When their financial position is improved, family life becomes better.
Before, men were lazy and were not working. They lost money through drinking and gambling. Now they are more motivated and farming has improved. Even landless people can sell milk and earn money, or save enough to purchase their own farms.
I decided to invest the money I’d saved while growing up in special crops purchased in Ahmednagar. I bought three bags up dried chili from the market for Rs. 25 per kg and sold them in Jamkhed for rs. 30 per kg. Over 2 years I made a net profit of rs. 1000. Then I started selling ready-made clothes in the Jamkhed market until I had substantial savings. Then I took a loan of rs. 3000 from the Sangli bank and purchased a plot of land in Jamkhed. I also helped my father buy 3 more acres next to his 6 acre plot of land. We produced vegetable and sold them for good profit. This land that was once valued at 3000 rupees is now valued at rs. 7000. I currently own 10 acres of farm land and I rent 2 houses.
Once I was economically stable, I became involved in politics. I didn’t know very much about politics. I was uneducated and I was aware of my limitations. Even though I didn’t have confidence in myself, the village people insisted that I stand for election as village chief, or Sarpanch. The position was reserved for a member of the lower caste in [what year?]. I was elected by a majority with a lot of public support. I held the position of sarpanch for five years. The man who held office before me had been in power for 15. The offices for the village panchayat were a mess when I arrived. There was no furniture at first so I arranged for chairs and cupboards to be brought in.
At our first meeting we discussed water scarcity. We had a tank in the village but no pipeline and no water. I asked for new pipelines for the whole village and to the huts on the outskirts. Them we arranged for electricity and lights for the entire village. The roads were repaired and sanitation was improved. We even arranged for government funding to build 30 houses for the poor and homeless. There was no school in my village, but as Sarpanch I started a school up to class 4. The village has been completely transformed and people are much happier.
I don’t expect any award for my contributions to my village. Everyone is happy with the improvements and they have expressed their love for me. Their appreciation is the best award.
I draw my inspiration from Dr. Arole and CRHP. Before I was from the untouchable caste, no children, and no money. I was like a stone. And now I am trained and molded for a purpose.